Unlike many artists, Casey McKinney’s paintings don’t stop at the frame. His sprawling, vivid pieces instead envelop their boundaries — which are often created out of materials like bundled pencils or spray paint cans — resulting in an added dimension in which to consider his solo exhibition, “Outside the Lines.”
McKinney worked in the art framing industry for many years, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that he began experimenting with his own frames as extensions of his work.
“There was a painting I was working on at the time that I felt it needed something else,” McKinney says. “So that was the first time that I took it outside the lines and onto the frame.”
It was a smart move considering the style of McKinney’s paintings.
In essence, they are graffiti for a gallery crowd (McKinney spent a chunk of his teenage years tagging buildings in Virginia before enrolling in an undergraduate art program) — colorful, fluid and bursting with form. It wouldn’t feel right for the works to be completely contained.
Like street art, McKinney’s work is also highly reactionary — specifically, his “Watchful Eye” and “Urban Outlaw.”
“Watchful Eye” is a swirl of acrylic and spray paint. Abstract arches and arrows billow around the two representational shapes in the painting: an eye and a pencil (this is also the work bounded by a frame of freshly sharpened pencils).
“This is one that I did around the time that the Charlie Hebdo murders happened in Paris,” McKinney says. “It’s kind of the ‘watchful eye’ people are always able to see what artists are doing now with social media and the way that the world is connected — so it’s to be mindful for what people are creating, but (thinking about how) to have the freedom to create those works.”
“Urban Outlaw” is a more local example, which McKinney says he created following the death of Louisville graffiti artist 2 Buck (known for his bubble-lettered eponymous tags around the city) last year. As the name of the painting suggests, 2 Buck’s work was considered illegal, though he had achieved a certain celebrity status among local artists.
In a style that is reminiscent of 2 Buck’s own work, McKinney’s “Urban Outlaw” features a bubbly, semi-abstract figure holding a spray paint can. Real cans surround the man, working as the frame.
“I had done a similar painting with a character with a spray paint can in his hand,” McKinney says. “But I created a new one because this is something that was happening at the time.”
Despite their street art inspirations, both these pieces play with light and color in really smart ways — if Paul Klee did graffiti, his work would look like what McKinney has created.
There’s also a single sculpture in the exhibition, “Iron Brush Stroke.” It’s an interesting departure from McKinney’s two-dimensional work, but one that serves to show another dimension of his artistic background.
“In undergraduate, I was pulled between painting and sculpting,” McKinney says. “I was doing a lot of casting work, and actually ventured overseas to host casting workshops with an old professor and my roommates.”
“Iron Brush Stroke” exemplifies this “dual passion,” as McKinney classifies it. The sculpture is composed of a cast iron plate with a single — though heavily patterned — stroke of paint which reaches about halfway down the surface. A bright orange paintbrush, which ostensibly created this design, hovers as if held by an invisible artist.
While McKinney’s work may look simple at first glance, it’s unexpected inclusions like this — especially when combined with the pieces’ timeliness — that elevate his work into something beyond framed versions of spray-painted shapes in an alleyway. His work seems effortless only because he has the technique to back it up, making “Outside the Lines” a must-see.
“Outside the Lines” will be displayed at Revelry Boutique Gallery until July 27. More information is available here.